Saturday, February 13, 2010

Commercialization of weather reports

OK, it's a minor point, but it's the weekend, so permit me.

We in New England just had another snow false alarm. After all-day, all-night ominous warnings on the local TV outlets of the type: "Will we have a blizzard and how much snow will it drop?", many schools and businesses cancelled all or most of their activities. Localities geared up their snow plows and salters, and private snow-removal contractors were engaged. I'm sure thousands of dollars were spent or committed. Yet, the storm mostly didn't materialize in the Boston area.

Now, to be perfectly fair, the National Weather Service did predict heavy snow and wind for at least parts of the area and parts of the day. Yet, the local forecasters have always prided themselves -- and, especially, their stations prided themselves -- on their knowledge of local conditions and weather history. They have played the role of "independents" to the hilt.

I believe -- not too secretly -- that weather situations in recent years have been over-dramatized in order to attract viewers to the "local" or 6 o'clock news and thence to its ratings-conscious sponsors. As I said, all day and all night there are teasers for this prime-time overly long local weather "segment", featuring anything that can be made to seem ominous, almost always with the suggestion that the event will actually happen. The result, I think, is that there is a subtle but not negligible force to produce an exciting report. I don't believe that the forecasters actually consciously generate exaggerated reports, but the pressure creates an attitude that is not sufficiently critical of NWS data. Given that precise weather forecasting in the long-term is mathematically impossible, and even in the short-term is iffy, it's important that local forecasters be careful and critical, and not suggest things to generate hype and viewership.

And one more thing: I live in New England, not Maryland or Georgia -- or even New York City . There shouldn't be headlines in papers here that say "Winter Brings Heavy Snow". Save the ink for either 3 feet in February or 10 inches in May.

No comments:

Post a Comment